EARLIER this month I was privileged to have participated in the World Chinese Economic Summit (WCES) in Hong Kong, organized by the Asia Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI), to which I am a senior adviser on international affairs. The WCES this year commemorates the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, and the signing of the Asean-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement that complements the China-Asean Free Trade Agreement, which has accelerated trade between China and Asean countries and is in the process of being further upgraded.
Welcoming participants from over 30 countries, this year’s (the ninth) WCES was opened by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and it bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award on Hong Kong’s former Chief Executive, C. Y. Leung, who is now a national leader of China as vice chairman of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The Malaysian deputy prime minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, delivered the keynote address at the WCES gala dinner, and former Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf spoke on the latest global and regional developments with his characteristic forthrightness during the conference luncheon.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) featured prominently throughout the agenda of the summit as a crucial regional development initiative. I was privileged to have moderated a parallel session on logistics and supply chain, where the distinguished panelists discussed enhancing and innovating connectivity between mainland China, Hong Kong and Asean.
The first panelist was David Chiu, a seasoned businessman with many decades of experience in property development and the hospitality industry in East Asia and beyond. He stressed on the importance of BRI’s financial aspects to regional development. Indeed, Southeast Asia has always been a region blessed with abundant natural resources. Shortage of financial resources has unfortunately held back the proper harnessing of these resources. The situation has been made more severe by the dwindling of foreign direct investments (FDI) from traditional sources, the Western developed countries. With the economic rise of China, which has now reached the status of being the second largest economy in the world, many Southeast Asian countries look forward to abundant Chinese investments under the aegis of BRI so that they may further unlock their development potential.
Another panelist, Raymond Yip, who is the deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, promoted Hong Kong’s potential role as a BRI “superconnector.” He outlined Hong Kong’s roleas a source of FDI for BRI projects, a provider of professional (such as legal and professional) services, a logistics and trade hub, and even as a renowned location for trade fairs and shows where deals can be struck. Yip also cautioned that the logistics and supply chain industry should watch out for changes in trade routes and access, in technological advances and also in standards and procedures.
Gerry Yim, the chief executive officer of Hutchison Ports, said so-called trade frictions which can hold back logistics efficiency can be addressed partially by ports and shipping lines working together, for example by sharing their planning information to better coordinate with each other. Professor Guillermo Gallego who heads Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s industrial engineering and logistics management department, also stressed the importance of cheaper, faster and cleaner logistics for reducing friction in commerce.
Pamela Mar, the director for sustainability of the Fung Group, emphasized the importance of “clean” growth as the BRI projects are undertaken afresh in developing countries. Supperamaniam Manickam, former Malaysian ambassador to the World Trade Organization, attempted to provide an overall look to handle BRI projects efficiently and reliably. This includes the need for a regionwide infrastructural plan, the assessment of social and environmental impacts, the value addition to local economy and the involvement of stakeholders in the process.
And Alexander Wan, a senior adviser to the China Daily, also reiterated that BRI ownership has to be shared among all participating countries. He singled out both digital connectivity and physical needs as being of equal importance, and stressed the importance of the younger generation’s understanding of BRI’s various aspects.
The WCES thus provided a timely forum for many participants throughout the region to share their views and aspirations on the BRI and many other timely issues, such as women’s entrepreneurship development. It is through this sort of frank exchanges between the authorities, industry and the academe, that new ideas can be fleshed out and new practices considered for adoption and implementation which hopefully would result in further sustainable development for the region and the world. Business has always been the lifeline for both Southeast Asia and the worldwide Chinese community. Further improvements in this regard will be of significant contribution to the revival of the world economy.